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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.

For the week of 8/9/2017
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Eckhart Park in Viroqua is 100 years old this year. In 1917, Fred Eckhart gave the land to the city as a park. The park sits behind the Vernon County Courthouse and the old jail. Children sometimes call it the “Dragon Park” because of the wonderful wooden dragon on the fence around the playground.

This park was once the Methodist Camp Meeting grounds. The Reverend George Nuzum (1832-1912) was the driving force behind the camp meetings. Nuzum was appointed to the Viroqua Methodist Church in 1878. In 1884, the oak grove behind the courthouse was purchased as the site for an annual camp meeting, held the last two weeks of August.

A large frame building called the “tabernacle” was built for the daily worship services. Families camped out in tents and small cabins nearby. A kitchen/dining room/dormitory was also built near the tabernacle, for feeding attendees and housing visiting preachers. Of course the grounds and tabernacle were used for other events during the year, including graduation ceremonies, plays, and political rallies.

In 1914, two years after the Rev. Nuzum’s death, the Methodist Church sold the camp meeting grounds to the city of Viroqua. The camp meetings ended and the tabernacle was razed in 1915. In 1917, the city sold the grounds to Fred Eckhart, who then gave them back to the city as a public park, with a sum of money for the park’s improvement and upkeep.

And who was this benefactor? Fredrick Eckhart (1840-1929) came to Vernon County in 1862, settling first in De Soto and later moving to Viroqua. Eckhart was a grain and livestock dealer, buying and selling hogs, cattle, sheep, grain, tobacco, wool, hay, and seeds. He shipped the first load of grain out of Viroqua on the Milwaukee Railroad, and opened Viroqua's first tobacco warehouse.

The city named the new park after Eckhart. An article in the local newspaper in 1919 describes the park’s recent improvements: “The old camp grounds have been cleared, a fine pavilion constructed, fountain erected... Concrete walks have been laid, rustic seats and benches placed. On the east section a city play ground established is much appreciated, with a skating rink and toboggan slide for winter, a ball diamond and tennis court for summer.”

The pavilion, or park shelter, was built where the tabernacle once stood, providing continuity with the park’s origins as the camp meeting grounds. Happy birthday, Eckhart Park!

Eckhart Park
Eckhart Park, circa 1920s

For the week of 8/3/2017
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

August is a busy month for the Vernon County Historical Society and Museum. Along with the staff’s regular daily duties of assisting visitors, overseeing volunteers and assembling exhibits we along with board members are hosting and planning several events this month.

On Monday August 7th, the Dawson Club will hold a meeting at the Vernon County Museum at 10:00 a.m. in the Dawson Room. These friends of the Vernon County Historical Society meet once a year to discuss special monetary needs of the Society that are not covered by the annual budget. Over the years, the Dawson Club has financed many valuable items for the Museum including media equipment, a storage shed and a large oak cabinet for obituaries. Members make a donation of $100.00 per year in addition to their regular VCHS membership. New members are always welcome.

The VCHS genealogy class will be meeting on Thursday, August 10 at 10:00 a.m. in the Museum meeting room. Karen Sherry will instruct the class on the use of digital on-line newspapers, a good source for genealogical material. VCHS members can attend the class for free but everyone is welcome. Non-members are asked to pay a one-time $5.00 fee. Only for September, the date of the genealogy class has changed to Thursday the 28th. We are fortunate to host Liv Marit Haakenstad from Norway, who is visiting our area. She is a noted Norwegian genealogist and will speak about Norwegian genealogy research. She will no doubt have some very valuable information to share. Please note that that the October class will be held at the regular time, the 2nd Thursday of the month.

On Tuesday, August 22, the 2nd annual Picnic in the Past will be held on the lawn of the Sherry- Butt House at 795 N. Main Street, Viroqua. At this family-friendly event, picnickers are encouraged to come in costume from any era 1960 or before. It will take place from 4 – 7 p.m. and participants are required to bring their own food and eating utensils, keeping in mind the era from which they are dressed for. As an example, those people dressed pre-1960 should avoid using such items as plastic, foam, disposable tableware, coolers and original food and beverage packaging. Come join your old friends and make new ones at this old-fashioned picnic. A free-will donation is appreciated to help maintain the House.

The first annual VCHS Pork Chop Dinner, headed by grill master Maynard Cox, will be held on Friday, August 25th, also on the Sherry-Butt House lawn. More details on this event are forthcoming.

Watch for more details on these events posted on our Facebook page, on posters and in future Museum Notes. For any questions, you may always contact the museum by phoning 608-637-7396 or by email at

We have recently updated the book Vernon County Teachers’ College Graduates 1908 - 1971. This book, popular with the school’s graduates, now contains a pictorial section, printed in color. It is available in two versions, chronological or alphabetical. The cost is $15.00. If you cannot visit the museum, we will be happy to ship it to you for an additional $3.00. Check out our website, to see all our books for sale.


The previous two articles:

July 26, 2017

July 19, 2017